Digitalization in agriculture. Towards an integrative approach

Romera, AJ
Sharifi, M
Charters, Stuart
Journal Article
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::30 Agricultural, veterinary and food sciences , ANZSRC::40 Engineering , ANZSRC::46 Information and computing sciences
Farm systems around the world have become less complex, dominated by monocultures, but at the same time much more complicated due to the increasing demands from society, leading to ever increasing compliance and regulatory requirements. Digital technologies have the potential to help alleviate such complications by virtue of their capacity to handle large quantities of information and by automating tasks. However, the opposite seems to be happening. The continuous proliferation of technologies being marketed to farmers adds to the complexity of farming. Farmers are feeling overwhelmed by the abundance of alternative technologies and are complaining about a lack of compatibility between them. We took the view that all the digital elements on farm need to be considered as a system, rather than looking at each component in isolation. We call such system the “digital layer” of a farm. Taking an engineering approach, we started by cataloguing the tasks that a generic farmer would routinely perform. We described 178 farm tasks, including strategic (11), operational (130) and reporting (37) tasks. This catalogue was organized in the form of an ontology, and guided us to develop a systematic description of the functional requirements of the digital layer. The inventory of functional requirements is a critical element in the design of the digital layer. We conducted a network analysis considering the data interdependencies between tasks, and observed a relatively high level of interconnectivity between tasks. This explains why digital technologies developed in isolation are struggling with interoperability issues, and, at least in part the reasons for farmers’ frustrations. This led us to conclude that the farm digital layer needs to be holistically designed, delivered, and supported, to support farm tasks coherently. This would require a much higher degree of coordination than we currently observe in the agri-tech sector, and possibly the need for central coordination entities.
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